In a 180 degree turnaround from Raleigh, Phish played two scintillating sets of music in Charlotte, North Carolina last night, sculpting a show that smoked from start to finish. The night carried a full-on rock and roll vibe from the get go, never relenting as the band combined a standout setlist with playing to match, navigating a show that never slowed down. Illustrating what can happen with two tactfully constructed sets, last night represented one of Phish’s top-notch summer efforts. As the band prepares to ransack Atlanta for July 4th weekend, they did quite a job to Charlotte on the way down.
Kicking off Friday night’s affair with the first “Buried Alive” of this year, the band gave the show a super charge from the beginning, busting out one of the best openers in their repertoire. Dropping into “AC/DC Bag,” Phish got last night’s show on the road as soon as it began. Dusting off “Vultures” for only the second time this era, Charlotte’s rendition sounded far tighter than Albany’s version from last fall. Giving the set a hard edge early on, the rarity also set the improvisational tone for the first set, a frame that would feature five vehicles into structured excursions. A swank and groovealicious”Wolfman’s” brought the set a dose of glossy molasses that outshone most any other version from this tour. The non-stop first set continued with a rollicking version of “Back on the Train” that saw the band stretch out the twangy funk into a set highlight, bringing the show to an early peak. Phish followed up with two more 2010 debuts in “The Wedge,” and the post-hiatus, tongue-in-cheek ballad, “Mexican Cousin.”
But the first half came to its earnest peak with a full-band exploration of “Stash.” Leading out with some tasteful whaling, Trey painted the background as Mike and Page stepped to the forefront. Allowing full participation early on, Trey’s laid back whaling almost always leads to more dynamic, full-band peaks come the end of the song because other band members had more of a stake in getting there. Such was the case with “Stash,” as the entire foursome hopped aboard this sinister ship, braving a stormy sea like the Argonauts. Bringing the piece to a climactic conclusion, Phish capped the set with the old-school combination of “Sparkle,” “Chalk Dust.”
When the first set flows as well as last night’s did, second sets usually follow; and last night’s most certainly did, bursting with energy the entire time. Phish hadn’t touched “Drowned” since SPAC a couple weeks ago, thus when in opened the second set, it felt as fresh as could be. Blowing out the rock peak into a set of slamming percussive rhythms, Phish gradually built the piece from hard groove into a flowing river of beauty without any abrupt changes or “cut and paste” jamming. The piece came to an organic conclusion when Trey came in with the opening lick of “46 Days,” a landing pad that has produced grungy sheets of dissonance and blistering guitar work all summer long. This version absolutely followed suit, injecting pure bombast into the set, leaving the crowd in the palm of Phish’s hand. The song’s new vocal ending provided a creative bridge into “Twenty Years Later,” one of the best surprises of the second half of tour, as the band is finally expanding the end of this piece into an ominous piece of sonic turbulence. The crunchy rhythms and heavily effected guitar leads provide a type of aural trek that Phish all-but avoids these days, making the song a welcome addition to any setlist. Completing the opening triumvirate with seething sounds, the band whispered into the summer’s first “Lizards” with artistic juxtaposition. Providing a mid-set interlude into Gamehendge, the placement of the song worked perfectly as a bridge between the two halves of the set.
Following its serene midway point, Phish doused the rest of the set in gasoline and lit it on fire. The band crashed open the door to a stunning final sequence with “Carini,” immediately cranking the show’s energy up to eleven. Mike’s basslines led the march into the underworld, while Trey spat licks of fury, and Fish and Page crafted the textures of the piece. Amidst this madness, Trey began a unique lick that the band immediately hopped into, leading a transition into….what?! As soon as Mike began singing the Zappa-eqsue lyrics, it became clear that we were witnessing Phish history with the second-ever performance of “Fuck Your Face!” And this was the only version anyone in the audience ever saw, unless someone was at Nectar’s on April 29, 1987 to see the only known performance of the iconic piece of The White Tape, (and even that date is debatable according to Phish.net.) With the “bust-out” to trump all others, “Carini > Fuck Your Face” became an immediate piece of Phish legend; to use an overused term – straight-up epic.
Without missing a beat, Phish sustained the end of “Fuck Your Face’s” fury, splashing directly into “2001.” Charging into the fast-paced funk, the band spring-boarded off their Michael Jackson-laced medley with an incendiary set of dance grooves that grew more significant than 3.0 version but Camden’s. Moving with urgency through the futuristic soundtrack, Phish slayed each half of the instrumental, as Page took the lead in a synthesized second verse. Dripping with energy, and moving faster than usual, the band peaked the song, setting the table for perfectly for “You Enjoy Myself.”
Putting a creative exclamation point on the starry evening, Phish moved impeccably through the composed half of the song, plunging into “Boy!” with unreal momentum. The band completely clicked in this version, tackling the jam with notable confidence from start to finish. Beginning in a laid back groove, the band organically built the piece with outstanding phrasing from all four members. Trey even worked in “Fuck Your Face” teases amidst his solo, bringing the show’s gem back into play. Attacking this version with subconscious communication, last night’s “YEM” popped in a way that many others don’t. Juicing the bass solo for all he was worth, Gordeaux pounded away the sets final notes of music before Phish’s voices took over. Using the generally mundane vocal jam into a capella teases of “Proud Mary” and “Get Back,” the band clearly was feeling it, right up to their last beat.
“A Day in A Life” put a dignified conclusion on a classic Phish show that served as part two of a July’s only four course meal. As the community flocks to Atlanta for this weekend’s two-night party, Phish is coming armed and ready to celebrate this holiday weekend. And if memory serves correctly, Phish has demolished the only two patriotic weekends in their history. Get ready…fireworks expected.
I: Buried Alive > AC/DC Bag, Vultures, Wolfman’s Brother, Back on the Train, The Wedge, Mexican Cousin, Stash, Sparkle, Chalk Dust Torture
II: Drowned > 46 Days > Twenty Years Later, The Lizards, Carini > Fuck Your Face > Also Sprach Zarathustra > You Enjoy Myself*
E: A Day in the Life
* w/ “Proud Mary” and “Get Back” vocal jam